The five stages of job loss grief… and how to move past them

If you’ve been made redundant, especially if you’ve been working in your role for a long time, you might feel a sense of profound loss. What’s worse, you’ll likely have other people telling you, ‘it’s only a job, you’ll find another one!’ To lots of people, however, the position they lost wasn’t ‘only a job’ – it was their identity, the place they went to see their friends and a place that felt like home. Here, we’ll talk you through the five stages of job loss grief, so that you can try and make sense of what you’re feeling, and learn what to expect next as you continue along this emotional journey.

1. Denial

This is the first stage of job loss grief, and an understandable reaction. Dawn, 35, tells us, “I’d been working in HR for seven years, for the same company. I knew things had been going badly for a while and sales were down, but my line manager kept reassuring us that things would pick up and that no jobs would be lost. So, when I was called in for a meeting with the managing director, I wasn’t too worried. I was stunned when he told me I was being made redundant, and even more stunned when he told me I had to collect my stuff and leave immediately. Hurt isn’t the word. Back at home, I kept thinking some kind of mistake had been made, that they’d call me in and tell me everything was okay.”

Dawn’s reaction is common. In most companies, when profits begin to drop, management won’t want to panic and demoralise their employees, so they’ll encourage them everything is okay and will turn around. Unfortunately, this reassurance tactic can make redundancies even more of a shock. If this has happened to you, you might go through feelings of disbelief and denial. This is a psychological protection mechanism, as denial shields us from bigger emotions which are harder to handle. It’s okay to feel this way, as long as you don’t cling on to denial for too long, as it can prevent you from taking the necessary steps to protect yourself, such as assessing your finances and seeking out assistance.

2. Anger

Simon, 40, tells us, “I’d worked for the same company since I was 15. Not only that, I felt that I’d helped build it from the ground up. It’s a construction business, and it was all I knew. Things started to go badly when the managing director started spending company money on other things, like paying off his gambling debts. Still, I’d thought things would turn around. In June I was called into his office and told I was being made redundant. To say I was angry is an understatement – I was livid.”

The second stage of job-loss grief, anger, is perhaps the most difficult to deal with. You might feel there were others in the organisation that contributed less than you who are more suitable for redundancy. You might also feel that you contributed a great deal towards the organisation you were working for, and the way you’re being treated is unfair. In some cases, you might have legal recourse, and you should check this with Citizens Advice. If you’ve no grounds to make a challenge, however, channelling these uncomfortable feelings can be difficult. This is the time to reach out for support. You might talk to your family, find an online support group, or seek professional mental health advice from an organisation like Mind. There’s no right or wrong way to get support, just make sure you do.

3. Bargaining

Lucy, 25, tells us “I was working as a receptionist at an engineering firm, and I absolutely loved it. I made loads of friends, and we’d all go on nights out together. Really, my job was my life. I was great with the contractors, and I helped everything run smoothly. One day, I was called into the office and told that my role was redundant, and that was it. I spent a few weeks at home going through various emotions, and then I came up with the brilliant (or so I thought at the time) idea that I would tell them I’d take a salary reduction. I made them the offer, and they refused. I realise now that I was devaluing myself because of my emotional state.”

It might be tempting to try and come up with some solution so that you can keep your job. Alternatively, you might try to bargain with the universe – if you can just be a better person, then surely your luck will improve. Again, this is a psychological protection mechanism; by trying to mitigate the situation, you don’t have to face up to reality. The truth is, though, there’s no way to bargain yourself out of bad luck. Pour your energy into something else, such as retraining, starting an exercise programme, or healthy eating. Anything that you’ll reap benefits from in the long term is a great investment of your time and energy.

4. Depression

The fourth stage of job loss grief, depression, can be particularly worrisome. Gary, 63, tells us, “I’d worked in marketing for 30 years, but I’d been with my last company for 10, and eventually gained a senior position. Things weren’t always easy at work, but I liked my job, and I liked my team. Profits started dropping and some of the sales team were laid off. Before I knew it, I was in the manager’s office being told the same thing was happening to me. I didn’t deal with it too badly at the time, I was just in a state of shock. As the weeks, went on though, I just had no energy, felt flat, and eventually didn’t even get out of bed. My wife forced me to go to the doctor, who gave me some tablets and organised counselling. I feel a little better now, but it’s still tough.”

Just because you’ve been made redundant doesn’t mean you’ll become depressed, but the condition is more common amongst people who’ve experienced job loss. Remember, you have a right to feel upset; you’ve been through a traumatic experience, and you shouldn’t try to suppress that emotion. It’s okay to cry, or even scream if you want to. However, depression is different from simply feeling down, and is a medical condition. If you think you might be depressed, look at the list of symptoms on the NHS website, and see if you can identify with them. If you can, it might be an idea to make a doctor’s appointment, just to see if you need any extra help.

5. Acceptance

Lucile, 39, tells us, “I’d worked as a dental assistant since I was 27, and I really liked it. I’d made some good friends, and I got along well with the patients. When lockdown started, we had to shut down, so I was furloughed. I didn’t mind that so much, it gave me time to spend with my daughter. However, before I was due to go back, I was informed I had been made redundant. I was floored, to be honest, and it took me a long time to stop feeling terribly sad. After around two months, though, I felt quite peaceful and began to consider the new opportunities that might be opened up to me. Sure enough, a couple of weeks ago, I applied for and was offered a new position, which I can’t wait to start.” 

If your redundancy is still new, it might seem unlikely that you’ll ever reach a place of acceptance, but you will. How will you know when you have? Well, you’ll be able to think and talk about your redundancy or job loss with objectivity, reflecting honestly on your own role in what happened (if you had one). It’s going to take a while before you reach a place of acceptance, so don’t try to force yourself into it before you’re ready. For many people, it might take many hours of talking things through, with a friend or with a professional, before this begins to happen. Take your time, allow yourself to experience your feelings authentically, and trust that eventually, you will reach the other side.

If you feel you need further help and support, you can find a full list of professional services and resources here.

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